Jordan K. Weisman on the Genesis of the BattleTech Setting

Sunday , 26, February 2017 13 Comments

Writing in 1988 in the introduction to the short fiction collection “Shrapnel”, Jordan K. Weisman reveals the thinking behind the premise of the BattleTech game setting:

The BattleTech game, supplements, scenarios, and other related fictional products are all offshoots of an idea that came to me in 1984, when my own imagination was captured by the strong images that the Japanese had created for their animated television series featuring huge, walking battle machines. Though the graphics for these man-like and insect-like monoliths were fantastic, the Japanese storylines still left my Western mind unsatisfied. And so I set off to create my own fictional universe where men used 10- or 12-meter tall monsters of destruction called BattleMechs to carry their endless struggles for domination across the stars.

What I wanted was a universe that had a taste of the alien, but that did not contain aliens. As in other science fiction, we produced this effect of strangeness combined with familiarity by changing only one of the basic premises we take for granted in the “real world.” In contemporary society, new technology is automatically superior to what came before. That means a computer that is only five years old soon becomes completely obsolete. It was that premise that we turned on its head for BattleTech.

Comparing the BattleTech game to its animated sources, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that the designers were ignorant of the cartoons and interpolated their own setting from a bunch of model kit covers. (I know because I’ve done it!) The truth is, they consciously appropriated what they liked from the cartoons… and then intentionally made something more in line with how they thought a giant robot setting should work. Interestingly enough, a central axiom of the game setting would eventually be thrown out with the introduction of the Clans, resulting in a noticeable loss in charm.

13 Comments
  • Blume says:

    Could you elaborate on the central element you think was lost with the introduction of the clans?

    • A. Nonymous says:

      Indeed. The Clans are a *major* part of Battletech’s charm for me.

    • Matt says:

      In the original setting, “current” tech was in many ways inferior to “old” tech; the wars of the Inner Sphere having destroyed knowledge and retarded the advances of technology. Finding a cache of Star League equipment was a boon and much of the early lore of the game involved battles over these “lost” technologies.

      When the clans arrived, that story thread was lost. They brought wildly superior technology with them, which in game-play terms made things terribly unbalanced and the Mechs easier to play. You rarely had to concern yourself with heat, ammo was less of a restriction, and mobility of the units increased. It became a different, less-fun game for many of us.

    • Jeffro says:

      The introduction of the Clans repudiated the central premise of the setting: that “new” technology should not automatically be superior.

  • Shimshon says:

    Jordan is my first cousin. We grew up in different cities, but I saw the original BattleTech hardware several times in various stages of development prior to the opening of the first BattleTech center in Chicago in 1990.
    It was incredibly cool stuff for the day, and quite visionary. I still remember the development team’s thoughts on the Amiga computer they used to control each pod. Great hardware, lousy OS (they wrote their own). Oh dear, I hope that doesn’t trigger anyone.

    I have never heard of this story of his (although I am familiar with some of the backstory). I would love to read it, but it seems copies are quite dear.

    • Jeffro says:

      People like Misha Burnett send me this stuff. I hand it off to my son without thinking about it. Occasionally I see what its going for on eBay and I’m shocked.

      Oh, and I was an Atari ST guy. Hate on the Amiga all you want!

      • Shimshon says:

        Yeah! Go Atari! I had an Atari 800 myself for many years.

        The Amiga ran the secondary screen and the pod functions. They had a custom TI TMS34010 board (and later before launch TMS34020) running the main viewport screen (the improved resolution was very noticeable). Seriously bleeding edge for the day.

        https://infogalactic.com/info/TMS34010

        This use case for the chips is missing from the page. Would be cool for Jordan or some other knowing participant to contribute confirmed details. But I suppose I can do it myself.

  • David says:

    Trivia note…it was originally going to be called BattleDroids, but they had to change the name as George Lucas had trademarked droids.

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